petite anglaise

October 13, 2004

miss moneypenny

Filed under: navel gazing, working girl — petiteanglaiseparis @ 11:57 am

I am regretting my rant about hypochondriacs somewhat, as I have a sore, ‘grated’ throat and swollen glands today and am feeling particularly sorry for myself (although I’m told my husky voice is quite sexy). I really fancied a day in bed, but my Britishness dictated that I must turn up to work drugged up to the eyeballs instead, blow my nose ostentatiously, generally cough and splutter over my colleagues and propagate my germs more efficiently through the air conditioning system.

Plus it’s bonus/evaluation time of year, so a bit of conspicuous martyrdom can’t hurt.

I have posted in the past about my place of work and some of my colleagues. I was initially reluctant to say what I do for a living, but I have decided to ‘come out’ today.

I’m a secretary. There, I said it. Or Personal Assistant if you prefer. Quite frankly I don’t give a damn what you call it: I’ve had roles where I virtually ran the office where I was a ‘secretary’ and others where I did mind-numblingly tedious work as a ‘PA’. The title in itself doesn’t mean a great deal.

In my various incarnations I have worked for a team of investment bankers (fast moving, lots of arrogant people, well-paid), for a start-up (don’t talk to me about stock options), in the office of the president of a luxury goods empire (free perfume, good Christmas presents, rather stifling atmosphere) and now for a small English firm (Cadbury’s chocolate, Tetley tea, beers after work).

After university my only goal was to live in Paris and learn to speak French like a native. First I taught, and once my time on the exchange programme was up, I decided to do a bilingual secretarial diploma. What I first saw as a well-paid, stop-gap job while I worked out what I really wanted has become what I do and who I am. And I enjoy it: organising things/people appeals to the bossy, obsessive side of my nature. The fact that I have to work in French keeps me on my toes. But while I’m not ashamed of being a secretary, I can’t help feeling that I was supposed to have more ambition, that I owed it to myself to aim higher, that I haven’t done myself justice.

The downside to this job is that my longevity often depends on that of my boss. I have left more than one company because my boss did, and I had no desire to be ‘inherited’ by someone I had no affinity with. Affinity is also a problem – it is important to get on well with one’s boss, but not too well or else the rumour mill will crank into action and before you know it the entire office assumes you are having a torrid affair.

I recently watched the film ‘The Secretary’ (odd but intriguing), which has left me with some rather disturbing mental images.

I don’t see any parallels with my job. But please excuse me while I just go and pick up a fax with my teeth…


  1. Nothing wrong with being a secretary. They’re normally the ones with the nice personalities who run the place. As opposed to the managers who purport to run the place and are real wankers. Besides, you are also a writer, non? And a very very good one at that. :wink:

    Comment by Claypot — October 13, 2004 @ 1:51 pm

  2. I am also a secretary, well actually I’m a “report assistant”, which actually translates as “typist” :???:

    I can’t help trying to justify my job to people, especially when they say “but you have a degree…” and I say “yes, but I hate working with the public, hate retail and find it difficult to get on with large groups of people”

    It has truned out to be my ideal job – I get to use a computer all day and boss other people around becuase they don’t know how to do things… yay! :wink:

    Comment by IsoChick — October 13, 2004 @ 2:39 pm

  3. I am a university research fellow, something I was encouraged to do because it was “intellectually worthy”. I often seat in my office wondering “why?”. Sometimes I wish I was planting carrots, knitting sweaters or just speaking to people. Just to let you know that those who occupy jobs that are deemed more ambitious are not necessarily at ease with themselves. Besides, you are a great writer and The Guardian knows it!

    Comment by claudia — October 13, 2004 @ 7:40 pm

  4. Teaching!! Aaaaaagh!!!! You had a lucky escape there then! :)

    Comment by Jennytc — October 13, 2004 @ 10:14 pm

  5. p a

    Aren’t your comments flashy. I have taped Secretary and will bear you in mind when I peruse.

    Comment by backroads — October 13, 2004 @ 10:57 pm

  6. I don’t understand why you felt at all hesitant to reveal how you earn your living. It’s as good a job as any other, isn’t it?
    If you like it and you’re good at it, then isn’t that the goal?
    And why are all my comments here coming out as questions? I can’t seem to stop?

    Comment by Tim — October 14, 2004 @ 1:05 am

  7. gosh darnit, the secretary is an ok film, except for the end, which is just plain dumb. but it made me long to move to LA, where I can only dream of driving to work to a 70s luxury car, and working in a nice bungalow that looks like church, plastered through and through with the best japanese prints. hmmm…the decor was the real sex in that movie.

    Comment by nardac — October 14, 2004 @ 1:44 am

  8. It can be a tad intimidating when you find out the unit secretary is much better educated than yourself. In my younger days I’d intentionally give her a hard time because of my own insecurities(I guess). Now after 35 years of slave labor, I’m elated to have the assistance of one. Too bad some of us take so long to learn to appreciate a god send. Although I don’t work with you, Thank You for your wonderful help, dedication, and fine services.

    Comment by jim — October 14, 2004 @ 7:15 am

  9. Then I shall imagine you being spanked this morning.

    (nardac is right, sexy sexy decor dans le filme)

    Comment by vitriolica — October 14, 2004 @ 8:38 am

  10. Vit

    1) My boss is sadly not James Spader. No way.
    2) Our offices are open plan with glass walled exec offices so it would be something of a spectator sport

    I fear I’m going to spend the rest of the morning making a list of people who would be permitted to spank me…

    Comment by petite — October 14, 2004 @ 10:18 am

  11. Being a secretary or a PA is really brilliant if your boss is a descent human being. I once worked for someone who looked like Harry Hill, behaved like Rick Mayall, dreamed of being a rock star, taught me how to play darts and bougt me a big bonsai for my desk.

    Comment by Jezebel — October 14, 2004 @ 11:50 am

  12. oh my god…James Spader…why is that guy so creepy…why is that guy so sexy? how does he do it? If I ever walked in and saw him as my boss I’d have to run away at top speed before my clothes spontaneously combusted in shame and confusion.

    and yes, looks like we were/are all secretaries. Except I ditched my job to be a ….TEACHER! Gah…Something tells me you’re getting better perks than I am.

    Comment by nardac — October 14, 2004 @ 11:59 am

  13. As a fellow secretary, I salute you. Only, they’ve appended some hideous title to we flunkies here. And since it’s an international aid office, our title’s been made into an acronym of sorts. Administrative Coordinator = AdCo. Horrible. Welcome to the club. No spankings in my office either. Just some fit throwing and the occasional ballooning ego to contend with.

    Comment by Nigel M. — October 14, 2004 @ 4:44 pm

  14. I spent 2.8 years as a PA for a workplace bully. The scary kind. I still can’t believe I stayed that long but was more committed to the company than him so am still there.

    Actually I work in the IT department now and am much happier than when I was dropping off dry cleaning, babysitting, cleaning house oh yes, and doing the odd bit of typing and travel arrangement…

    Comment by deeleea — October 14, 2004 @ 10:44 pm


    Comment by vitriolica — October 15, 2004 @ 10:51 am

  16. I used to feel a little ashamed of being a proofreader at a magazine (catching the writer’s and editor’s mistakes wasn’t all fun and games, believe me) but proofreaders do morph like butterflies and turn into editors and writers. It’s nice to be the one in the office with your name on the door and proofreaders coming to you looking for work.

    I assume secretaries can also rise to become the boss. Look at that dumb Melanie Griffith movie Working Girl for example. If she can rise anyone can!:lol:

    Comment by Emily — October 16, 2004 @ 6:32 pm

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